Toward ecologically scaled landscape indices

Am Nat. 2001 Jan;157(1):24-41. doi: 10.1086/317004.


Nature conservation is increasingly based on a landscape approach rather than a species approach. Landscape planning that includes nature conservation goals requires integrated ecological tools. However, species differ widely in their response to landscape change. We propose a framework of ecologically scaled landscape indices that takes into account this variation. Our approach is based on a combination of field studies of spatially structured populations (metapopulations) and model simulations in artificial landscapes. From these, we seek generalities in the relationship among species features, landscape indices, and metapopulation viability. The concept of ecological species profiles is used to group species according to characteristics that are important in metapopulations' response to landscape change: individual area requirements as the dominant characteristic of extinction risk in landscape patches and dispersal distance as the main determinant of the ability to colonize patches. The ecological profiles and landscape indices are then integrated into two ecologically scaled landscape indices (ESLI): average patch carrying capacity and average patch connectivity. The field data show that the fraction of occupied habitat patches is correlated with the two ESLI. To put the ESLI into a perspective of metapopulation persistence, we determine the viability for six ecological profiles at different degrees of habitat fragmentation using a metapopulation model and computer-generated landscapes. The model results show that the fraction of occupied patches is a good indicator for metapopulation viability. We discuss how ecological profiles, ESLI, and the viability threshold can be applied for landscape planning and design in nature conservation.